Leeds United: Rodolph Austin, unjustly criticised?

Back in the summer, everybody was very excited about Rodolph Austin and his arrival in Leeds. In fact, by all accounts we were signing a player who seemed a bargain, one of genuine quality. Things haven’t exactly gone to plan, and the more recent reaction to Austin has been lukewarm, to say the least. I’m convinced, on the back of recent games, that this has been unfair. Austin has been the only player recently to up his game, as the rest of the team has collapsed around him.

Think back to why he became a shambling husk of what he was before – a supposed broken leg that he recovered from in about 4 weeks, rushed back without any real fitness. The game against Forest clearly showed that Rudy was not ready, he was noticeably carrying additional weight and unfit, yet he played again and again following that. Aside from the injury, Austin has gone nearly a year and a half without a pre-season now, without a holiday. I’ve previously described Austin as being like a Victorian Steam Engine experiment run amok. During the winter, his supply of coal had burnt down to the last embers.

He was allowed a rest, and he’s come back stronger. Against Huddersfield, he was the best player on the park, breaking play up and keeping hold of the ball when no one else would. Since then he hasn’t necessarily been our best performer, but he has provided solid displays, doing little wrong.

The problem for Rodolph, I feel, is that he’s our only player (aside from Sam Byram) with any real ability on the transition. This is the phase of play between attacking and defending, or vice-versa. The transition is considered imperative to modern football, and explains the importance of counter attacking to any sensible coach. With Rodolph lumbered by midfield partners unable to turn and respond quickly to a breakdown in an attack, he’s almost entirely responsible for covering when the opposition break. Similarly, when an opposition attack breaks down, Rodolph’s driving runs are often incredibly useful for carrying the ball over half way.

He does it exceptionally well, and has done over the last few games, but he needs players around him to support him. One man cannot run end-to-end alone, especially one without a break or pre-season in a long time. The next manager (McDermott, by all accounts) needs to be sensible enough to understand that a figure like Michael Brown cannot “break up play” on the counter – he’s far too slow to get anywhere near the opposition when they burst quickly into our half.

If he plays on Saturday, I expect Austin will be one of the better players on the pitch, doing nothing spectacular but still imperative to any result that comes our way. At the very least, I look forward to seeing a refreshed Austin next season, preferably with the players around him that he needs.

Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1).

Leeds United: Remember Warnock as a failure

By Jack Bennett

When Neil Warnock was appointed by Ken Bates as new Leeds United manager in February 2012, the majority of fans were excited to say the least. His promotion record speaks for itself, and his reputation as a fiery and passionate coach preceded him.

However, in the thirteen months that have followed, we have seen a squad with little stability reduced to a squad with even less stability. Mainstays such as Robert Snodgrass and Luciano Becchio have been sold off to parent club Norwich, and average Championship plodders have been brought in to fill the gaps. But it hasn’t worked, and Warnock knows it. His resignation, live on Yorkshire Radio, brought out feelings of relief and disappointment. Relief that now, just now, we may finally get a manager who has some knowledge of footballing tactics, rather than continuing with the outdated football that has been an arrant failure.

But what has led to him becoming a figure of hate with fans? There’s the point that several fans didn’t want him in the first place, but his appointment was initially met with widespread applause. I’d say that a majority of the discontent came from his outdated tactics, tactics that wouldn’t have looked out-of-place in a 1980s non-league fixture, with only a rare foray off his stubborn path. In Warnock’s eyes, his way was always right. He would dismiss any dissent with a condescending reply and a high-pitched gaggle, a particular kick in the teeth for the thousands of fans that paid week in, week out to watch something that can scarcely be described as ‘football’.

And then there was the singling out of players that he didn’t sign. As recently as last week, home-grown Tom Lees was criticised very publicly by Warnock after giving away a penalty against Ipswich. This made it clear that he would happily criticise player he hadn’t brought to the club, but would blame officials for decisions that led to his own players receiving punishment. When Luke Varney was sent off against Millwall earlier in the season, he received little more than a pat on the back and some sycophancy from his manager. Who is Warnock to dish out public humiliations to our most loyal and passionate players?

And let’s not forget the snide digs at fans. And the refusal to change tactics when things weren’t working. And the refusal to drop his favourites. And his sending-back of Ross Barkley when he was clearly the most talented midfielder at the club. All in all, an embarrassing reign that will go down as Warnock’s final whimper – unless another club feels desperate enough to appoint a footballing dinosaur.

But I think that fans are so desperate now to just see some passing football that many would take anyone as the new manager. It’s not unreasonable to say that whoever we get should be an improvement on Warnock, whose infantile jibes and crass remarks have led to low squad confidence and apathy from fans. And, after the debacle of the last decade, who can blame them? This was, to use a footballing cliché, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Leeds United: Let’s be realistic about O’Leary

By Dominic Smith

I can’t blame Leeds fans for wanting David O’Leary back, however daft the idea seems.

It was, after all, under O’Leary that we enjoyed our finest years in the (relatively) modern era. Now
that it’s almost ten long years since we were last in the Premier League, and twelve since THAT
Champions League run, it’s that O’Leary side that represents the best that a sizeable group of our
fans have seen, myself included.

As a 23 year old, I don’t remember the great 1991/2 title winning side, and have only hazy memories
of seeing the likes of Strachan and McAllister strut their stuff in our midfield. As difficult as it is to
admit now, my childhood heroes were the likes of Lee Bowyer and Harry Kewell. It was that O’Leary
side that I loved so much, whose posters adorned my walls, who represented all that was good
about our club. The gutsy heroism of Radebe, the grit of Barry, the trickery and pace of Kewell, the
cool finishing of Viduka. It’s embarrassing, knowing what we do now about the corrosive behaviour
in the boardroom, and how so many of those players disgraced themselves after leaving the club.

But my generation still look back on that period with so much fondness. Years of abject
performances make us long for that time again, when finishing 4th in the Premier League was
deemed a failure.

And it’s not simply nostalgia. Who can blame fans for wanting to relive the better days when there
is simply no future vision for the club? We have owners who seem desperate to flog the club a bit
at a time, a recently departed manager who kept telling us he wanted to leave, and a bunch of new
players accustomed to the nomadic lifestyle of being second-rate journeymen.

How different to how it was under O’Leary. Young players were plucked from the Academy and
shone in the first team, complimented by wise old heads like Nigel Martyn. The fans, players
and management were all seemingly united in a modern vision of Leeds United, playing exciting,
attacking football. We took on the giants of Europe and beat them. Who can forget the last-minute
victory against AC Milan or the humbling of Anderlecht?

But we have to take off these rose-tinted glasses. We won’t progress as a club by trying to relive
the old days. The great Revie side were thrust into management, one by one, in the 1980s, to try
and bring some success back to the club. Bremner, Clarke and Gray, all legends, failed, because of
financial mismanagement and no vision for how we moved forward as a club.

And don’t forget O’Leary’s part in our demise. He oversaw a ludicrously imbalanced and bloated
squad, signing the likes of Robbie Fowler and Seth Johnson for crazy fees on inflated wages,
made increasingly bizarre statements to the press and wrote a book when he should have been
concentrating on our stuttering on-field performances.

Not even considering the fact that O’Leary has been out of serious management for seven years, his
return would be a bad mistake. We cannot move forward as a club by reliving the past.

Follow Dominic Smith on Twitter (@DomoTheBold).